Dentist accused of killing wife during Africa hunting trip
A Pennsylvania dentist is accused of killing his wife while on an African big-game hunting trip -- in a scheme to life insurance payments.
A Pennsylvania dentist and big-game hunter is accused of killing his wife of 34 years while on a hunting trip in Zambia in 2016 in a scheme to collect millions of dollars in life insurance money.
Big-game hunter Lawrence Rudolph, 67, allegedly shot and killed his wife Bianca Finizio Rudolph on a trip to Zambia in 2016, then claimed nearly $5 million in insurance benefits, according to a federal criminal complaint obtained by CBS 2.
Rudolph, who founded and operates the Three Rivers Dental in Pittsburgh, allegedly rushed to have his wife’s remains cremated in Africa just days after her death, officials said.
He has now been charged with foreign murder and mail fraud, officials said.
According to federal investigators, Rudolph made life insurance claims through seven different life insurance companies for a $4.8 million payout for his wife’s death, which was ruled as accidental by Zambian law enforcement officials.
On Oct. 11, 2016 at 5:30 a.m. local time, Bianca was shot in the chest with a shotgun.
Rudolph told Zambian police that he was in the bathroom of their cabin and Bianca in the bedroom area when he heard a gunshot. The dentist claimed he came out of the bathroom and found his wife lying on the ground and bleeding from her chest. He told police he believed that the shotgun had been left loaded from a hunt the day prior and it had discharged as she tried to pack it in its case.
A professional hunting guide on scene allegedly “recalled seeing the shotgun and an expanded shotshell on the ground. The shotgun was inside a partially zipped gun case.”
Rudolph and his wife – both apparently accomplished big-game hunters – had frequently traveled to Africa for hunting excursions. On this particular trip, Bianca’s goal was to kill a leopard. She never got her leopard, but killed “numerous other animals.” Rudolph was on the trip, but didn’t hunt.
Officials said later that afternoon at around 4:30 p.m., Rudolph phoned the US Embassy to discuss his wife’s funeral options, and his desire to have her body cremated while her body was held in a local funeral home. He spoke with the consular chief, who after their chat “told the FBI he had a bad feeling about the situation, which he thought was moving too quickly.” The chief traveled with two others from the embassy to the funeral to take photographs of Bianca’s body to preserve evidence.
The consular chief, a 20 year veteran in US Marines, described the wound as “straight on the heart” and said the wound was not caused by a “tight group of pellets.” He found no gas burns typical to a contact wound, and estimated that Bianca had been shot from 6.5 to 8 feet away.
Rudolph called the consular chief and was “livid” that he had photographed his wife’s dead body. They met at the funeral home and discussed notifying family members, officials said. Rudolph allegedly told him that wanted to personally tell his family about the death, saying the children were from a different marriage and were not Bianca’s. At one point, Rudolph suggested that Bianca may have committed suicide, according to the allegations against him.
Bianca had filed her first life insurance policy in 1987, according to investigators, and updated the policy in 2016, when she died.
Four of the seven companies hired a private investigation firm to look into Bianca’s death. All of the insurance policies determined that Rudolph should receive his payment from the policy.
After her death, a “friend” contacted the FBI in Pretoria, South Africa and said she wanted the FBI to investigate further. The friend said that she “suspected foul play” because Rudolph “had been involved in prior extramarital affairs and had been having an affair at the time of Bianca’s death.” She allegedly said Rudolph was “verbally abusive” and the two had fought over money.
The friend said that Rudolph’s kids didn’t find out about Bianca’s death until a week after she died, and other friends and family didn’t know until the funeral. She allegedly said she believed Bianca, a “strict Catholic”, would not have wanted to be cremated, despite Rudolph’s claims that is what she had always planned.
The acquaintance told federal investigators: “Larry is never going to divorce her because he doesn’t want to lose his money, and she’s never going to divorce him because of her Catholicism.” Other acquaintances corroborated suspicions of an affair.
Another friend, the ex-wife of a pro-hunting guide who was present at the time of Bianca’s death and who’d known Bianca since 2010, said the gun may have been customized and repeatedly jammed. She also raised concerns over the choice of cremation and Bianca’s religious beliefs, the report said.
Investigators interviewed a former employee at Three Rivers Dental who’d worked there from February 2015 to February 2016, when she said Rudolph’s “girlfriend” was the manager. The ex-employee said the alleged girlfriend had told her she had been in a relationship with Rudolph for 15-20 years. The mistress allegedly told the employee that she had given him “an ultimatum of one year to sell his dental offices and leave Bianca.”
Investigators said that by January 2017, Rudolph was living with the girlfriend. Records showed the couple traveled together to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico in 2010, twice in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, July 2016, and in 2017 right after Bianca’s death.
Financial records showed that on Oct. 23, 2016 — the day of Bianca’s funeral — Rudolph purchased a plane ticket for the girlfriend to travel to his home in Arizona, according to the affidavit. The purchase was canceled later that day. However, three days later he purchased another ticket to fly a different woman to Las Vegas on Oct. 26, investigators claimed.
During the FBI’s investigation, the Zambia consular chief’s photos of the body were reviewed by the Colorado Medical Examiner, who said in a statement: “In my opinion, it would be physically impossible to accidentally fire this shotgun in its carrying case and produce the entrance defect noted on the body of Ms. Rudolph.
Rudolph’s attorney filed motions on Tuesday to get him out of a Colorado detention center to Arizona, where he owns a home. His attorneys have allegedly argued that he and Bianca signed a prenuptial agreement, and he would not have lost much in a divorce. They’ve further said that he has no financial motive to kill her, with his dental practices valued at $8 million, according to reports.
“This is an outrageous prosecution against Dr. Larry Rudolph, a man who loved his wife of 34 years and did not kill her,” Lawrence’s attorney, David Oscar Markus, said in a statement obtained by People. “Back in 2016, his wife had a terrible accident during a hunting trip in Zambia. The investigators on the scene concluded it was an accident. Several insurance companies also investigated and agreed.”
“Now, more than five years later, the government is seeking to manufacture a case against this well-respected and law-abiding dentist. Dr. Rudolph looks forward to his trial, where he will demonstrate his innocence.”